- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The theme around town all day Tuesday was change. The Maryland basketball team got into the act at night.

The Terrapins had made a habit of frittering away double-digit leads of late. And for an evening, anyway, they avoiding repeating the process.


Maryland escaped Comcast Center with a 84-78 defeat of Virginia, nearly blowing a 17-point lead before holding off the Cavaliers.

Adrian Bowie and Landon Milbourne both scored 17 points, Eric Hayes had a career-high 11 assists and Dave Neal returned from a first-half injury to make a critical 3-pointer as the Terps (13-5, 2-2 ACC) snapped a two-game skid.

“The only issue we’ve been having is those slumps we have when teams start to come back on us,” Milbourne said. “We’ve been trying to figure out how to get rid of them, and it happened for a little bit tonight, but we got the win. We’re starting to get it a little bit.”

Jamil Tucker scored 21 points, and Calvin Baker and Mike Scott added 16 for the Cavaliers (7-8, 1-3), who fell under .500 for the first time this season.

It was an intriguing intersection in the season for the Terps, who were a few days removed from a two-game trip through Florida that left them with a pair of losses but also reason for encouragement. After all, they were more than competitive against two teams with imposing frontcourts.

At the same time, those also were crucial missed opportunities, and Maryland could ill afford to lose to a team entering College Park with a .500 record.

It was a possibility as Virginia gradually rallied in the second half, methodically carving into a steep lead. It wasn’t anything new for Maryland, which blew a 14-point lead against Morgan State and a 17-point edge against Miami in losses earlier this month.

“We held on, but we were due,” coach Gary Williams said. “We very easily could have won three in a row in the conference. It was tough to come back tonight. There’s a lot of demons you have to get out of your head in that situation after what happened at Miami.”

Maryland received a lift from Neal to make it happen. The senior left with a gash over his left eye early in the first half and received 15 stitches for his trouble. After passing a concussion test — including a recitation of the months of the year in reverse order — he ambled back into the arena early in the second half and soon re-entered the game.

It was an important development, especially after reserve Dino Gregory followed up an eight-point first half with perpetual foul trouble after the break. Neal also provided a timely answer when Virginia closed within two points, drilling a 3-pointer with 4:54 remaining to bump the lead to 68-63.

From there, the Terps relied on two of their most dependable traits — free throw shooting and Milbourne, sometimes in tandem.

Milbourne had another strong performance, scoring 10 points in the final five minutes to stave off the Cavaliers. And Maryland, an especially effective free throw shooting team, finished off an especially strong night of reaching the foul line with a 10-for-10 effort in the closing minutes.

The Terps attempted 24 foul shots on the night, their most since Nov. 21 against Vermont.

“We kept our composure, we executed well and then we went to the free throw line,” guard Greivis Vasquez said. “We´re one of the best free throw shooting teams in the nation, and we have to get to the line.”

The free throws were a symptom of continued aggressive play, a development Williams lauded and a stark contrast to the tentative play late in the Morgan State and Miami losses.

Perhaps that was the best way to erase the lingering doubts of playing with a lead — and the first step in making the change a permanent one.

“It´s always in the back of your head because it´s happened in the last week,” said Hayes, who didn´t commit a turnover. “It´s always a reminder we have to run great offense there at the end, get great shots and get to the foul line.”

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